Recommended: John Broadus on the History of Preaching

johnbroadus.jpgWhile there are many books that discuss preaching, few have the kind of consistent insight you will find in Lectures on the History of Preaching by John Broadus (1827-1895). Essentially the text of a series of five lectures delivered by Broadus in 1875, the book is worth buying if only for his observations in lecture 1 entitled “Specimens of Preaching in the Bible” which contains one of the most interesting and profitable analyses of the preaching of the Prophets and Apostles, and of course our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that I have ever come across.

Admittedly some aspects of the book are disappointing. Broadus spends far too long on French preaching which really has little too offer and entirely ignores Scottish and (remarkably) American preachers, but his sections on biblical preaching and the history of preaching in the early church make up for these deficiencies. If you are unfamiliar with names like Basil and Chrysostom, this book isn’t a bad introduction to their ministries. What are particularly valuable though are some of the applications to our own preaching that Broadus makes.

Here are a few of his comments on various topics that I hope you find will helpful in your own preaching:

On the Christ’s Teaching and Preaching

“His teachings were to a great extent controversial, polemical. He was constantly aiming at some error or evil practice existing among his hearers… The lesson here as to our own preaching is obvious, though very important. Truth, in this world oppressed with error, cannot hope, has no right, to keep the peace. Christ came not to cast peace upon the earth, but a sword. We must not shrink from antagonism and conflict in proclaiming the gospel, publicly or privately; though in fearlessly maintaining this conflict we must not sacrifice courtesy, or true Christian charity.” (p.25, 26-27)

“Our Lord’s frequent repetitions are remarkable and instructive… And what instruction do we find for ourselves in this marked feature of our Lord’s preaching? Here was the wisest of all teachers; in him was no poverty of resources, no shrinking from mental exertion. He must hare repeated because it was best to repeat. Freshness and variety are very desirable, no doubt; but the fundamental truths of Christianity are not numerous, and men really need to have them often repeated. And many preachers, carried away by the tendencies of the present age… when the chief reading of most people is newspapers and books called emphatically novels, and the [eagerness to hear something new] of the lounging Athenians pales before the eagerness with which we rush to bulletin boards to catch the yet later news that has just girdled the world,—many preachers go wild with the desire for novelty and the dread of repetition, and fall to preaching politics and news, science and speculation, anything, everything, to be fresh. Let the example of the Great Preacher be to us a rebuke, a caution, a comfort. A preacher should be a living man, and strive to get hold of his contemporaries; yet nearly all of the good that preachers do is done not by new truths but by old truths, with fresh combination, illustration, application, experience, but old truths, yea, and often repeated in similar phrase, without apology and without fear.” (p.27, 29-30)

“All powerful things are very dangerous if improperly handled. That which can do no harm though misused, can it do any good?… It is our duty, as far as possible, to diminish the harm as well as increase the good; but can we ever reduce the harm down to zero, without reducing the good to zero too? If we are too painfully solicitous to avoid doing harm, we shall do nothing.” (p.34-35)

On Paul

“His style is singularly rich in rhetorical lessons—a style consisting not in quietly earnest and straightforward talk, like practical Peter, and not poetic, pictorial, vivid like James, but logic set on fire—a ceaseless stream of argument and earnest appeal, often swelling into a torrent which bears everything along, confusedly, perhaps, but with mighty force, resistlessly. You see in the various addresses and epistles of Paul the style of a many-sided man—here a Boanerges in passionate vehemence, and there as tender as a woman’s love—hesitating not to break sentences in twain by sudden bursts or digressions—piling strong words upon each other, like Ossa upon Pelion, in the struggling effort to reach the height of his great argument, to give fit expression to his swelling emotion—scorning the ‘ wisdom of words,’ the strained and artificial energy and elegance in which the degenerate Greeks of the day delighted, and yet producing without apparent effort a gem of literary beauty not surpassed in all the world’s literature, that eulogium upon love, which blazes like a diamond on the bosom of Scripture. As I said of Isaiah, so it may be said of Paul, that thousands have unconsciously learned from him how to preach. And how much richer and more complete the lesson may be if we will apply ourselves to it consciously and thoughtfully.” (p.39-40)

“One point as to the great apostle’s preaching I must not omit to mention—the striking adaptation of every discourse to the audience and the occasion. … No one of all the apostle’s discourses recorded in Acts would have been suitable to take the place of any other. So likewise as to his Epistles. Think of sending Romans to Corinth, or Colossians to Rome—and so of the rest. There is here a surpassingly important lesson for preachers. Every discourse ought to be so carefully and precisely adapted to the particular audience and occasion, that it would not suit another occasion or audience without important alteration. Very rarely is it allowable, if ever, to make a sermon so general that it will suit all places equally well, for then it does not exactly suit any place. If you do not attempt to imitate Paul in anything else as to preaching, be sure to follow his example in this—that yon try to adapt every sermon to that time, that place, that people; and if you repeat it elsewhere, search eagerly beforehand to find out at least some points of specific adaptation to the new occasion and congregation.” (p.40-41)

On the Preaching of Origen

“But while Origen by no means originated allegorizing, he did do much to recommend it, by presenting the striking, though delusive, theory, that as man is composed of body, soul and spirit, so Scripture has a threefold sense, the grammatical, the moral, and the spiritual, and also by actually working out a spiritual sense for a great part of the Old and New Testaments, with perverse and absurd ingenuity. In this way he injured preaching. Men who held to a deep, esoteric sense, which only the few could understand, who, like the Gnostics, regarded themselves as a sort of spiritual aristocracy, would not only neglect to bring forth and apply the plain teachings of Scripture, but they habitually made light of these teachings, and cared mainly for such hearers as could soar with them into the “misty mid-regions” of allegorizing. Now it is very well as a general principle that we should preach with some reference to the wants of the highly cultivated, and should deal in profound thought, but after all it is the plain truths of Scripture that do the chief good, to cultivated as well as uncultivated. One who begins to regard himself as distinctively a preacher for the intellectual or the learned, will spoil his preaching as rapidly as possible.” (p.54-55)

“Origen does not take the fundamental thought of the passage, and treat every verse in relation to that, but he just takes clause after clause as they come, and remarks upon them in succession. Not till a century later was this fault corrected, and only partially then. In fact this lack of unity is still the commonest and fault in ordinary attempts at expository preaching. But such feeling does not now prevail, and it is more hurtful now than formerly, for the modern mind demands unity in all discourse. If you would succeed in expository preaching, let every such sermon have a genuine and marked unity.” (p.56-57)

On the Reformation

“It was a revival of Biblical preaching. Instead of long and often fabulous stories about saints and martyrs, and accounts of miracles, instead of passages from Aristotle and Seneca, and fine-spun subtleties of the Schoolmen, these men preached the Bible. The question was not what the Pope said; and even the Fathers, however highly esteemed, were not decisive authority — it was the Bible. The preacher’s one great task was to set forth the doctrinal and moral teachings of the Word of God.” (p.114)

“We must add that there was in the Reformation a revival of preaching upon the doctrines of grace. The methods of preaching are, after all, not half so important as the materials. These great men preached justification by faith, salvation by grace. The doctrine of Divine sovereignty in human salvation was freely proclaimed by all the Reformers. However far some Protestants may have gone at a later period in opposition to these views, yet Protestantism was born of the doctrines of grace, and in the proclamation of these the Reformation preaching found its truest and highest power. There are many who say now-a-days, “But we have changed all that.” Nay, till human nature changes and Jesus Christ changes, the power of the gospel will still reside in the great truth of salvation by sovereign grace. Let the humanitarian and the ritualist go their several ways, but let us boldly and warmly proclaim the truths which seem old and yet are so new to every needy heart, of sovereignty and atonement, of spiritual regeneration and justification by faith.” ( p.117-118)

Luther and Broadus on What Makes for Good Preaching

“What I have time to say of Luther as to preaching must end with a paragraph from the Table Talk, which makes some good hits though very oddly arranged. “A good preacher should have these properties and virtues: first, to teach systematically; secondly, he should have a ready wit; thirdly, he should be elegant; fourthly, he should have a good voice; fifthly, a good memory; sixthly, he should know when to make an end; seventhly, he should be sure of his doctrine; eighthly, he should venture and engage body and blood, wealth and honor, in the Word; ninthly, he should suffer himself to be mocked and jeered of every one.” The expression, “he should know when to make an end,” recalls a statement I have sometimes made to students, that public speaking may be summed up in three things: First, have something to say; secondly, say it; third and lastly, quit.” (p.126-127)

About Andrew Webb

I was converted out of paganism and the occult in 1993 and while I was initially Charismatic/Arminian in my theology, I became Reformed and Presbyterian through bible study and the influence of ministries like RC Sproul's. After teaching in local bible studies, and taking seminary courses part time, I began to feel called to the ministry in 1997. I was Ordained as an RE at Christ Covenant PCA in Hatboro, PA in 2000 and as a TE by Central Carolina Presbytery in 2001 when I was called to be the Organizing Pastor/Church Planter for Providence PCA Mission, Cross Creek PCA's church plant in Fayetteville, NC (home to Ft. Bragg and Pope Airforce Base). In 2005 when the Providence PCA Particularized I was blessed to be called by the congregation to be their Pastor
This entry was posted in Preaching. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s